U.N. OFFICIAL: MOZAMBIQUE FLOOD DEATH TOLL IN THE THOUSANDS
MAPUTO, Mozambique -- The widespread flood disaster in Mozambique is worsening, as thousands of deaths are being blamed on the deluge, and more than 100,000 stranded victims are still awaiting rescue, according to disaster response and emergency aid officials.
Other nations and disaster aid organizations are funneling money, emergency supplies and much needed rescue helicopters to save lives and ease suffering from what Mozambique officials say is the nation's worst flood on record.
The Mozambique government estimates more than 200,000 people have been left homeless since torrential rains hit the impoverished African nation three weeks ago.
Chaotic conditions resulting from the flood have hampered efforts to compile a precise death toll, but Michele Quintaglie, a spokeswoman for the United Nations World Food Program, said it is certain that the number of dead is in the thousands.
Other aid workers said the death toll would continue to climb, as people begin dying of flood-borne diseases over the next few weeks.
The lack of helicopters needed to rescue stranded victims, many who have been clinging to trees or perched on building tops, has raised concern that victims who might have been saved may die waiting for help.
"The priority is still to save people in trees and on top of houses waiting for evacuation," said an official at the Mozambique Disaster Management Institute.
The official, who declined to be named, said more than 100,000 people were still stranded and warned that the rescue mission, which has been hampered so far by too few helicopters, could be further constrained by a lack of fuel.
"We are running out of fuel," he said. "We need more helicopters and more fuel."
More than 3,000 people were rescued Monday, including everyone in immediate danger along a particularly hard-hit area of the Limpopo River, according to Maj. Louis Kirsten, a spokesman for the South African military, which has sent helicopters and other aid to its troubled neighbor.
Since Sunday, chopper rescue operations have been limited to five South African military helicopters. But South Africa said Monday it was sending three additional military choppers to help save the growing number of victims stranded by the flood.
And international aid agencies said they were trying to hire private South African helicopter operators to airlift victims and deliver food and other supplies to relief camps.
Monday marked the first official emergency aid efforts from the United States and Britain. Washington announced it was funneling $1 million through the U.S. Agency for International Development to help pay for additional search and rescue aircraft, and delivery of relief supplies.
Additionally, two U.S. military planes were said to be en route to deliver donated shelter materials, blankets and water containers. The Pentagon said the first of the two planes is expected to arrive in Mozambique on Wednesday.
A toll free telephone number has been set up for private, individuals who wish to offer donations for Mozambique flood victims. That number, scheduled to begin operation Tuesday, is 1-800-USAID-RELIEF or 1-800-87243-735433.
Britain said it had pledged a total of 2.2 million pounds ($3.5 million) to help overall emergency operations. And London called on its European Union partners to write-off the debt of the impoverished nation.
Meanwhile, more water was headed downstream into Mozambique's Cahora Bassa Dam from its western neighbor, Zimbabwe, which Sunday released billions of gallons from its overflowing Kariba Dam.
Mozambique's water authority said on Monday people living in the Xai-Xai district northeast of the capital Maputo should move to higher ground as the wave of water which inundated the Chokwe district over the weekend moved towards the coast.
On Sunday, a wall of water about 2 meters (6 feet) high hit Chokwe, a town of about 40,000 people about 201 kilometers (125 miles) north of the capital of Maputo, submerging it in a matter of hours.
Zimbabwe's Civil Protection Unit said Monday that at least 80,000 people were left homeless by floods in the east and south of that country. But officials said the number could be far higher, since many of the affected areas were inaccessible. Floods had swept away bridges and roads and rescue services lacked aircraft for aerial surveillance.
In Botswana, 60,000 people had been left homeless by floods caused by four weeks of heavy raining, said Dineo Mogwe, chairwoman of the National Disaster Management Committee. Eight people had died, he said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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